OAKLAND -- Walkers and cyclists will get to travel a segment of the Bay Bridge for the first time Sept. 3, when Caltrans opens the new east span of the bridge with a separate path for those on foot and bike.

The new lane path is expected to open a few hours after the scheduled 5 a.m. Sept. 3 opening of the $6.4 billion Bay Bridge east span between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island.

Bridge operators and recreation advocates are stoked about the opening of the new elevated path above the bay.

"The public will be able to experience the bay and the bridge in a whole new way," Caltrans spokesman Andrew Gordon said Thursday at a news conference. "You will get these really great views of the bay."

Recreation advocates are tempering their enthusiasm, however, because, initially, the riding and walking path will be open along only about three-fourths of the 2.2-mile length of the new east span.

Riders and walkers will access the trail from Oakland, but the trail will dead end before it reaches Yerba Buena Island. Before the path can be extended to Yerba Buena Island in a year or two, a portion of the bridge's eastern span must be torn down to clear space for the trail, Caltrans said.

"We are both excited at the opening and disappointed that the path will not go to Yerba Buena Island for nearly two years," said Dave Campbell, program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. "It's a big milestone, though. The original plan for the new east span did not include a bike plan, and that was changed due to the public speaking out."

Bridge planners postponed a grand opening celebration, which included a bridge walk and race across the eastern span before it opened to traffic, after critical bolts broke in March and left the opening date in doubt. Although the Sept. 3 opening has been restored, the celebration won't be held until later this year.

The path initially will be open during daylight hours and closed at night. Once the path is extended to Yerba Buena Island, however, the lane will be open around the clock.

Three segments of the new Bay Bridge bike path are staged on trailers atop the new span’s road bed near Yerba Buena Island on Thursday afternoon Aug.
Three segments of the new Bay Bridge bike path are staged on trailers atop the new span's road bed near Yerba Buena Island on Thursday afternoon Aug. 22, 2013. The wooden segments will connect the span's bike path to the Oakland shoreline temporarily until a permanent link is completed. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The 151/2-foot-wide path will have three striped lanes -- one lane in each direction for bicyclists and one for people on foot. Access to the trail is from a segment of the Bay Trail in Emeryville that goes past the Shellmound Street shopping center with the Ikea store, and from Burma Road and Maritime Street in West Oakland.

On Thursday, Caltrans and California Highway Patrol representatives said they expect exceptionally heavy trail use for at least a few weeks because of public curiosity. The CHP has contingency plans to meter the flow of people onto the path if too many users show up, CHP Officer Daniel Hill said.

"Some might want to wait a week or so to check it out," Hill said.

A CHP bike team of officers will ride the path and enforce laws -- especially the 15 mph speed limit, he added.

Before the planned Sept. 3 bike path opening, bridge construction crews have several tasks remaining, including installing a 640-foot-long temporary path that cyclists and pedestrians will use to get up on the bridge in Oakland. That temporary wooden path will be replaced by a permanent paved path later.

Cycling advocates hope funds will be lined up someday to extend the cycling and riding path all the way across the bridge to San Francisco. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is studying options for the path extension across the west span, with costs expected to top $500 million.

"The bike path will become a major commuter route if it can be extended all the way to connect Oakland and San Francisco," Campbell said.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.